What it takes to drive an ambulance and how it’s not what it used to be.
“It is a great honor to save a life. You save many.”
— Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone
Have you ever thought about how the term “ambulance driver” is perceived?
Today’s ambulance drivers carry far more responsibility and handle more tasks than in the past. In most cities, “ambulance driver” is no longer a standalone profession. In fact, for most EMTs and paramedics, driving an ambulance is merely an extension of their duties and responsibilities.
Since these dedicated people do so much for their communities, the term “ambulance driver” does a disservice by selling it short of the actual responsibilities and rewards that come along with it.
This article aims to highlight the role of an ambulance driver and the credentials required to fulfill this obligation.
What Does an Ambulance Driver Do?
Simply put, the primary responsibility of the “ambulance driver” is, just as it sounds, to drive the ambulance, transporting sick, injured, or non-ambulatory patients to the nearest hospital or medical facility.
Other general responsibilities include helping lift patients into and out of the ambulance and administering first aid. Between transporting patients, ambulance drivers often assist with several other duties at their medical facility. These may include fueling, maintaining, and cleaning the ambulance and keeping it stocked with all the necessary medical supplies.
The role of an ambulance driver is challenging and has played a vital part in saving countless lives. Over the years, however, the role of the ambulance driver has expanded to include much more than just driving. Here are some of the other duties that can take an ambulance driver may perform:
- Accompanying and assisting emergency medical technicians on calls.
- Placing patients on stretchers and loading stretchers into ambulances.
- Administering first aid such as bandaging, splinting, and oxygen.
- Restraining or shackling violent patients.
- Removing and replacing soiled linens and equipment to maintain sanitary conditions.
- Replacing supplies and disposable items.
- Reporting facts concerning accidents or emergencies to hospital staff or law enforcement officials.
The Evolution of Ambulance Drivers to EMTs
With the development of emergency medical services (EMS), out-of-hospital treatments (like CPR and defibrillation), and new pharmaceuticals, the tasks involved in ambulances continue to grow dramatically.
Today’s ambulances are more like mini emergency rooms on wheels, equipped with a battery of high-tech tools and life-saving supplies. Meanwhile, today’s EMS providers are licensed healthcare practitioners who can respond to various medical situations and provide advanced assessment and care on-site. As a result, the number of ambulance drivers who only drive ambulances is small, about 5 percent.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are only 11,710 ambulance drivers in the U.S. who are not also EMTs or paramedics. At the same time, there are over 261,000 EMTs and paramedics, and most of them can and do drive ambulances (BLS).
Some places still employ drivers with no medical qualifications (or with only basic first aid training) to drive the ambulance. However, most “ambulance drivers” today are trained EMTs or paramedics. Because of the multiple responsibilities, many EMTs and paramedics take exception to being called “ambulance drivers” because they do so much more.
Is Medical Training Required to Become an Ambulance Driver?
Even though ambulance drivers play an increasing role in delivering first-response healthcare, some states do not require medical training to drive an ambulance legally. This goes back to when ambulance drivers did nothing but drive ambulances.
However, regardless of the lax state requirements, most EMS organizations only hire certified EMT professionals to drive ambulances. In most EMS organizations, an EMT drives the ambulance as part of the expanded responsibilities we’ve discussed previously.
How to Get Hired as an Ambulance Driver
Though requirements vary by state and employer, today’s ambulance drivers are typically educated at least to the basic EMT level. And all states require EMTs and paramedics to complete a formal EMT training program.
Depending on the program, basic EMT training may include up to 120 hours of classroom education and several days of clinical or field training. EMTs must also pass a written and practical exam from the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT).
(Go here for our article on learning how to become an EMT).
Even employers who do not require their ambulance drivers to be EMTs often still require ambulance drivers to have at least cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS) certification. These 1- or 2-day courses are available from the American Red Cross, colleges, and other community resources across the country.
Some employers provide specific on-the-job training, but many also require an ambulance safe driving course and a specialized ambulance driver certificate, such as an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC). Developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this course combines classroom and practical experience. It covers safe driving, navigation and GPS, and legal requirements for ambulance drivers. The course usually requires that the student have one year of emergency vehicle driving experience before qualifying for the certificate.
State Requirements for Ambulance Drivers
An ambulance driver must be able to navigate a 14,000+ pound emergency vehicle through busy streets at high speeds in all conditions while transporting sick and injured patients who may be receiving treatment while in route. Sound simple? Not so much.
This role can require specialized training, such as an Emergency Vehicle Operator Course (EVOC), though less than half of states require a basic EVOC for this crucial role in public safety. This, even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says an estimated 6,500 accidents involving ambulances occur annually. So, while your state may not require it, many employers will.
Here are a list of states and their EVOC requirements:
|State||EVOC Required?||State||EVOC Required?|
|District of Columbia||Yes||North Dakota||No|
How Much Are Ambulance Drivers Paid?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary* for ambulance drivers in 2021 was $31,000, and the top 10% earned over $46,000.
On the other hand, the average salary* for EMTs and paramedics was $36,000, and the top 10% earned over $47,000 (BLS). Furthermore, the demand for EMTs is expected to grow by 11% over the next few years (BLS).
Top Paying Industries for Ambulance Drivers
|Industry||Average Hourly Wage||Annual Salary|
|Physicians’ offices||$ 21.99||$ 45,740|
|Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals||$ 18.40||$ 38,280|
|Medical and surgical hospitals||$ 16.17||$ 33,630|
|Home health care services||$ 15.60||$ 32,440|
|Local government||$ 15.36||$ 31,940|
Top Paying States for Ambulance Drivers
Below are the highest-paying states for ambulance drivers:
|State||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Top Paying Cities for Ambulance Drivers
Here is a list of top paying cities for ambulance drivers, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
|City||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|San Francisco, CA||$19.76||$41,090|
|New York, NY||$18.30||$38,060|
|Los Angeles, CA||$17.86||$37,160|
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